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The passing of an American hero has stirred the conscience of this nation, at least temporarily.

That is due not only to the ongoing remembrances of a life lived in service to the country but also to the incredible disrespect shown this bona fide hero by a sitting president.

Unfortunately, there is little reason to expect the present outrage to last.

What will last is the legacy of U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. His death was expected. He and his families, both personal and political, knew all too well that brain cancer was killing this former prisoner of war.

The son and grandson of four-star admirals, McCain was a Navy pilot when his plane was shot down in the Vietnam War.

Subjected to torture in a Hanoi prison, he survived five and a half years of imprisonment to return home and dedicate himself to political service.

His public life carried him into the U.S. House and Senate and two unsuccessful bids for president. A staunch Republican, he could be a hard-headed and blunt-spoken advocate for his causes. But he also earned a label as a maverick, sometimes siding even with political adversaries.

McCain was imperfect. He owned it.

"I have tried to serve our country honorably. I have made mistakes, but I hope my love for America will be weighed favorably against them," McCain wrote in a final missive, read after his passing.

He also made a last plea to Americans to hold faith in American ideals and in each other and not "to despair of our present difficulties."

That's the man people were remembering this week. Recollections from colleagues on both sides of the political aisle haven't been about his strident positions.

Instead, the focus has been on the man's integrity, good humor and decency. Friend and foe have remembered his ability to repair hard feelings, to apologize when his passion had carried him too far into a fight, to seek reasonable compromise.

There was that notable exception, of course. President Donald Trump refused for a while even to show McCain the simplest courtesy of flying the flag over the White House at half-staff.

The president has since ordered the flag lowered to half-staff until after McCain's interment at the U.S. Naval Academy on Sunday, but the decision came after intense reaction from the public and pleas from the president's own people that he pay tribute to a fallen hero.

He's also mouthed the words he should have said -- and meant -- when news broke of McCain's death. But that may not salve the disappointment and disgust he first triggered.

President Trump apparently balked at doing the right thing because of his long feud with McCain, who sharply criticized the administration.

McCain famously called Trump's Helsinki press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory."

And McCain was just getting started in what was a strong indictment of Trump's inability and unwillingness to stand up to Putin.

McCain was hardly the president's only critic on that occasion, when Trump seemed to accept Putin's denials of meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, despite U.S. intelligence to the contrary.

Trump's dislike for McCain had been longstanding, perhaps best demonstrated when candidate Trump, who never served in the military, chided McCain for his capture in war.

Yet, Trump's initial failure to acknowledge McCain's long service in the military and in public office was inexcusable.

The president in that moment proved himself as small as McCain stands tall in the eyes of his countrymen.

Commentary on 08/29/2018

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